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The Hobbit (Page 21)

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As far as Bilbo knew, there was no particular reason why he should not tell. Gollum’s mind had jumped to a guess quicker than his; naturally, for Gollum had brooded for ages on this one thing, and he was always afraid of its being stolen. But Bilbo was annoyed at the delay. After all, he had won the game, pretty fairly, at a horrible risk. “Answers were to be guessed not given,” he said.

“But it wasn’t a fair question,” said Gollum. “Not a riddle, precious, no.”

“Oh well, if it’s a matter of ordinary questions,” Bilbo replied, “then I asked one first. What have you lost? Tell me that!”

“What has it got in its pocketses?” The sound came hissing louder and sharper, and as he looked towards it, to his alarm Bilbo now saw two small points of light peering at him. As suspicion grew in Gollum’s mind, the light of his eyes burned with a pale flame.

“What have you lost?” Bilbo persisted.

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But now the light in Gollum’s eyes had become a green fire, and it was coming swiftly nearer. Gollum was in his boat again, paddling wildly back to the dark shore; and such a rage of loss and suspicion was in his heart that no sword had any more terror for him.

Bilbo could not guess what had maddened the wretched creature, but he saw that all was up, and that Gollum meant to murder him at any rate. Just in time he turned and ran blindly back up the dark passage down which he had come, keeping close to the wall and feeling it with his left hand.

“What has it got in its pocketses?” he heard the hiss loud behind him, and the splash as Gollum leapt from his boat. “What have I, I wonder?” he said to himself, as he panted and stumbled along. He put his left hand in his pocket. The ring felt very cold as it quietly slipped on to his groping forefinger.

The hiss was close behind him. He turned now and saw Gollum’s eyes like small green lamps coming up the slope. Terrified he tried to run faster, but suddenly he struck his toes on a snag in the floor, and fell flat with his little sword under him.

In a moment Gollum was on him. But before Bilbo could do anything, recover his breath, pick himself up, or wave his sword, Gollum passed by, taking no notice of him, cursing and whispering as he ran.

What could it mean? Gollum could see in the dark. Bilbo could see the light of his eyes palely shining even from behind. Painfully he got up, and sheathed his sword, which was now glowing faintly again, then very cautiously he followed. There seemed nothing else to do. It was no good crawling back down to Gollum’s water. Perhaps if he followed him, Gollum might lead him to some way of escape without meaning to.

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“Curse it! curse it! curse it!” hissed Gollum. “Curse the Baggins! It’s gone! What has it got in its pocketses? Oh we guess, we guess, my precious. He’s found it, yes he must have. My birthday-present.”

Bilbo pricked up his ears. He was at last beginning to guess himself. He hurried a little, getting as close as he dared behind Gollum, who was still going quickly, not looking back, but turning his head from side to side, as Bilbo could see from the faint glimmer on the walls.

“My birthday-present! Curse it! How did we lose it, my precious? Yes, that’s it. When we came this way last, when we twisted that nassty young squeaker. That’s it. Curse it! It slipped from us, after all these ages and ages! It’s gone, gollum.”

Suddenly Gollum sat down and began to weep, a whistling and gurgling sound horrible to listen to. Bilbo halted and flattened himself against the tunnel-wall. After a while Gollum stopped weeping and began to talk. He seemed to be having an argument with himself.

“It’s no good going back there to search, no. We doesn’t remember all the places we’ve visited. And it’s no use. The Baggins has got it in its pocketses; the nassty noser has found it, we says.”

“We guesses, precious, only guesses. We can’t know till we find the nassty creature and squeezes it. But it doesn’t know what the present can do, does it? It’ll just keep it in its pocketses. It doesn’t know, and it can’t go far. It’s lost itself, the nassty nosey thing. It doesn’t know the way out. It said so.”

“It said so, yes; but it’s tricksy. It doesn’t say what it means. It won’t say what it’s got in its pocketses. It knows. It knows a way in, it must know a way out, yes. It’s off to the back-door. To the back-door, that’s it.”

“The goblinses will catch it then. It can’t get out that way, precious.”

“Ssss, sss, gollum! Goblinses! Yes, but if it’s got the present, our precious present, then goblinses will get it, gollum! They’ll find it, they’ll find out what it does. We shan’t ever be safe again, never, gollum! One of the goblinses will put it on, and then no one will see him. He’ll be there but not seen. Not even our clever eyeses will notice him; and he’ll come creepsy and tricksy and catch us, gollum, gollum!”

“Then let’s stop talking, precious, and make haste. If the Baggins has gone that way, we must go quick and see. Go! Not far now. Make haste!”

With a spring Gollum got up and started shambling off at a great pace. Bilbo hurried after him, still cautiously, though his chief fear now was of tripping on another snag and falling with a noise. His head was in a whirl of hope and wonder. It seemed that the ring he had was a magic ring: it made you invisible! He had heard of such things, of course, in old old tales; but it was hard to believe that he really had found one, by accident. Still there it was: Gollum with his bright eyes had passed him by, only a yard to one side.

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On they went, Gollum flip-flapping ahead, hissing and cursing; Bilbo behind going as softly as a hobbit can. Soon they came to places where, as Bilbo had noticed on the way down, side-passages opened, this way and that. Gollum began at once to count them.

“One left, yes. One right, yes. Two right, yes, yes. Two left, yes, yes.” And so on and on.

As the count grew he slowed down, and he began to get shaky and weepy; for he was leaving the water further and further behind, and he was getting afraid. Goblins might be about, and he had lost his ring. At last he stopped by a low opening, on their left as they went up.

“Seven right, yes. Six left, yes!” he whispered. “This is it. This is the way to the back-door, yes. Here’s the passage!”

He peered in, and shrank back. “But we dursn’t go in, precious, no we dursn’t. Goblinses down there. Lots of goblinses. We smells them. Ssss!”

“What shall we do? Curse them and crush them! We must wait here, precious, wait a bit and see.”

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